PG&E May Shut Off Service To 5.4 Million Customers
In an effort to limit the risk of further (potentially) deadly blazes during the existing wildfire conditions, PG&E has announced the possibility of blacking out areas of its California service. This plan was disclosed to state regulators last Wednesday as part of a larger wildfire mitigation plan.
PG&E provides electricity and natural gas to over 16 million Californians. In moving forward with this plan, nearly 5.5 million customers could become affected by the shutoffs; up from a much smaller, current, number of only 570,000. The company has also announced plans to strengthen its tree-clearing practices, enhance equipment inspections, and invest in more weather stations and cameras for earlier risk detection. These efforts are all part of a broader risk management approach, coming in the wake of the state’s recent wildfires.
This begs the question of whether or not these consumers, a.k.a. paying customers, will receive any recourse. Will this wildfire mitigation plan make homes less valuable? Can these homeowners sue PG&E? These are all questions floating about.
PG&E Power Shutoff Program
The implementation of the PG&E power shutoff program would mark, arguably, the most dramatic change in company history, as they only pre-emptively shut off customers’ power for the first time ever last year. To quote Michael Lewis, the company’s Senior Vice President, “Proactively turning off power is a highly complex issue with significant public-safety risks on both sides—all of which need to be carefully considered and addressed … We will only turn off power for public safety and only as a last resort to keep our customers and communities safe.”
During the recent Camp Fire incident in November, PG&E considered shutting off power beforehand, in late October, as winds became stronger and stronger, sweeping the Northern Californian area. The company essentially decided that conditions did not warrant such measures, but are re-thinking this decision in hindsight, as the fires killed over 85 people.
The safety record of PG&E has also faced some recent scrutiny, especially after investigators have found that the company’s equipment helped start the bulk of the California wildfires in the last couple of years. State Fire Inspectors are currently looking into the cause of the Camp Fire, but PG&E has already disclosed that some of its equipment in the area of the fire had malfunctioned shortly before the flames began to spread.
Per The Wall Street Journal, PG&E filed its mitigation plan Wednesday as required by a recently enacted state law that asked all of the state’s investor-owned utilities to detail how they intend to reduce wildfire risk—a risk already exacerbated by drought and climate change. The California Public Utilities Commission will review the proposals in the coming weeks. PG&E’s filing comes as a federal judge, to ensure safety, is threatening to require the company to proactively turn off power in high-risk areas during wildfire season, reinspect its grid and remove all trees that could fall into its power lines.
Furthermore, U.S District Judge William Alsup is adjudicating a case after PG&E was convicted of numerous safety violations following a 2010 pipeline explosion, killing eight people. Since this conviction, PG&E has been placed on federal probation.
In a hearing held last week, Judge Alsup expressed frustration with the PG&E’s response to these many wildfires, finding their acts in violation of their aforementioned probation. Judge Alsup has stated that the company failed to communicate sufficiently enough with its probation supervisors in regards to a settlement related to yet another 2017 California wildfire. “There is one very clear-cut pattern here, and that’s that PG&E is starting these fires,” announced Judge Alsup during the hearing. “Can’t we have electricity that’s delivered safely in this state?”
Judge Alsup further stated that he would reserve any judgment on if he’d force the company to take more suitable actions until after the company filed this wildfire mitigation plan with state regulators.
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